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SOM 310 Management Communications
Kinds of U.S. Business Letters (and U.S. Letter-Writing Strategies)
Prepared by L.M. LaDuc, 7/96

What is a business letter?

A business letter is an important document that a writer uses to accomplishes specific, measureable objectives in interaction with a specific audience.

Do business letters vary from country to country)

Although business people from many countries rely on Business English and use standard "western" letter formats, if you conduct business overseas you will see major and minor differences -- in language, in format, and strategies of persuasion. The latter element -- the kinds of srategies that writers use to persuade -- may vary subtly, or greatly from culture to culture (e.g., nationally, or because of ethnic or religious differences). While all human communication shares common elements, even the subtle differences are important to learn about, because they may mean the difference between success or failure in a global business venture. [See your International Communication Case Assignment for more information about this increasingly crucial topic.]

"Kinds" of U.S. Business Letters

There are a wide variety of kinds of business letters and they are categorized chiefly by function: (The following list is not exhaustive.)

complaint or adjustment letters ... sales letters (and proposal letters) performance appraisals ... good news and bad news letters hiring and termination letters ... letters of recommendation fund-raising letters ... request letters collection letters... problem-solving letters query letters ... letters of inquiry refusal letters ... letters of transmittal goodwill letters... application letters

In conjunction with standard writing strategies (rapport, information, action), each of these kinds of letters employs certain specific strategies in order to accomplish its primary purpose., and in addition, secondary strategies may be employed to accomplish more than one objective with the same letter. For example, a company may use a direct mail sales letter to change your attitude about one of its poor-selling product s, and to get you to place an order as well. The company writers will likely offer information about how the product has been improved, and it will use a standard sales technique (e.g., the "star-chain- knot" ) to "close the sale." [Consult your textbook for more information about this and other specific strategies.] A writer of a bad news letter will need to decide whether to be direct or indirect. A writer of a complaint letter will need to get the reader on his or her side, and be clear about the action desired toremedy the problem.


Paying attention to standard Business Englsh and traditional letter formats, write a variety of letters to people in U.S. companies, as described in the list of choices below. (Later in the semester you will also be asked to write letters or memos to international audiences.)

For practice (and your portfolio):

  1. Write a draft of a complaint/adjustment letter about a product or service you have purchased, with which you are very dissatisfied. Your aim or intent is the completion of the promised service, a replacement or exchange, an adjustment of the bill, and/or a refund.
  2. Write a draft of a letter soliciting funds for some club or non-profit organization to which you belong. Your aim is to get the reader to send in a donation.
  3. Write a draft of an inquiry letter in which you request information about employment opportunities with a particular company or organization. Your purpose is to gather information, not to obtain an interview.

    For your graded U.S. business letter assignment:

    Write one of the following:

    1. ) a direct mail sales letter for a product or service that you have (or could have) developed and for which you intend to start a marketing campaign. You will need to be clear about the "target audience" (i.e. the group of potential customers to whom you plan to direct your sales appeal). You will also need to use an effective selling technique (e.g., star, chain, knot). Be sure that your letter employs some element that can be used to measure the effectiveness of your sales attempt (e.g., an 800#, a coupon, etc.).
    2. a series of 3 collection letters, for a commercial service that your company provides for other businesses. Assume that the service has already been provided, and that you want to continue to do business with the audience.

    Remember:for a grade you must obtain at least 2 signed responses and/or edits on your draft; revise; edit and proofread; hand in all supporting materials with your final draft in a manilla folder: your notes, preliminary drafts, signed edits, final draft, etc..

    Tips for Proceeding:

    Learning Objectives:

    Revised 12-17-97 EdC